Charles Dance in Shadowlands
I spent the first eight years of my adulthood in the U.K., first training in Glasgow at The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, and then working in the West End in London — so many of my early, endemic theatre experiences are from those years. There were countless performances I’d describe as "wonderful," but one that sticks out as THRILLING. That was Charles Dance as C.S. Lewis in Shadowlands at the Novello in 2008. I was performing in Fiddler on the Roof (because, yes, it is the only show I do…) down the road at The Savoy, so I took in a mid-week matinee and scarcely had any tears left for my own show that evening.
I was so overwhelmed by the entire production that I RETURNED a second time (something I had, up until that point, never done before) and was, in fact, moved even MORE intensely upon reviewing. It is/was my favorite performance I have/had ever seen in London.
I can’t even talk/write about this one— woof (look: animal noises are a more apt description of my emotions than human language). It is so fascinating because AI isn’t really my “aesthetic” (I tend to enjoy classics more than contemporary things), nor is rock really my thing. But 9$84yo3h&[email protected]*%clka¢sj¡, it didn’t just move me: IT TOTALLY DESTROYED ME. How much you ask? It is the only time I have ever been obliterated so completely by a piece of theatre that the ushers came up to the puddle that was me after the theatre had cleared out and said, “Um, Miss? Uh, everything…okay? [*sobs more*] Okay well, um, we’re closing up…” That music was the unintentional soundtrack to my adolescence. And I know those people. They are my people.
The entire original cast of Ragtime
There is no other piece of theatre that meant more to my family. The original cast recording pretty much orchestrated our lives in the late 90s, and no other piece of contemporary theatre has ever rocked me like it. I think you could say that long before I ever saw Ragtime live, it had already formed and shaped my personal connection to, my aesthetic, and my feelings for and about, the theatre. So when my father made it his mission to take our family to New York to see it, suffice it to say: WE MELTED. We cried a lake of tears, and it not only met our expectations, it exceeded them.
Anyone who even REMOTELY knows me personally, or follows me on social media, or happens to casually see my iPhone wallpaper knows that I have a mild (read: ridiculously-out-of-control) obsession with my only idol: Angela Lansbury. Can you believe it took me 26 years to see her live on stage? Having admired her on television, in films and on every cast recording she EVER MADE IN THE HISTORY OF EVER, the very first time I saw her live on stage was as Madame Armfeldt in the 2009 revival of A Little Night Music and… I died a little.
Could I meet her afterward at stage door? Nope. I’m actually quite shy, and I also would never have known what to say… it was pretty magical to be 25 feet away from your only idol for the first time, and also? She was marvelous and classy and beyond beautiful in the role.
The Seagull at Lake Lucille
This cannot even be called a production, but is more accurately to be titled an “event” of epic proportions. I am a major fan of both Chekhov and “marathon theatre,” but this took both to the extreme.
Founded by Melissa Kievman and Brian Mertes in 2003, the Lake Lucille project re-framed their Rockland County home as a performance venue. Basically? You drive out to Lake Lucille. You park near their house. And you (and maybe 90 other people) witness an all-encompassing, site-specific, marathon theatre event where four acts of The Seagull takes the entire day to witness. Mind. Blown. It didn’t hurt that my treasured pal Gabriel Ebert played Konstantin with such depth and vigor, who is absolutely the best Kostya I have ever seen live (and I’ve seen a baker’s dozen).
Just… Aldolpho. We were in the presence of genius there, folks, and anyone who saw it knows it. I don’t think there is anything else to say other than it is a performance that was so out-of-this-world I’m still not quiiiiite sure it was real.
Hoon Lee in The King & I
I saw Bart’s revival in October and while the entire production was wholly spectacular, Hoon Lee blew my brains out. I wiped tears from my NECK. What he did was so nuanced, genuine, funny, overwhelmingly powerful, and detailed— a true work of art, not to mention beautifully sung. Hoon is an amazing guy, too—a Harvard grad, humble, funny, nerdy, a family-man, and one OUT OF THE WORLD KING OF SIAM. You can still see him through February.
Run to see it...
Oh my Lordy loo. (Pun intended) All of it. Like: what the actual HECK original cast of Urinetown?!
Theatre legends paying to pee, schooling us in irony and nuevo-farce and, of course, John Cullum, Jeff McCarthy, Hunter Foster, and Nancy Opel belting Zs. It was painfully hilarious, not to mention oddly poignant. I saw it with Michael Arden in limited view seats and still, when it was over, I wanted to press proverbial "rewind" and just see the spectacular insanity again.
I was lucky enough to see Alan (fellow RCS alum, doncha know) in both the 1998 revival (and the 2014 revival [of the revival?]) The 1998 viewing rocked me—and not only had me thinking outside the box, but it blew UP the box and likely scorched my previously-held, teenaged “aesthetics” to ash.
His was the first time I had ever seen an actor dare to not just “get dirty” (and not—though definitely appropriate—in the sexual sense). I mean he was b*lls-to-the-wall, cover-yourself in muck and glitter and disgrace and don’t give a solitary f*** what anyone thinks: just get out there and put it all on the line without a scrap of fear or shame. Not a worry. Not a speck of fear. Just tons of grit. Humor. Generosity. Creative flow. It left me awestruck.
The cheating answers:
My students at Pace University
Okay. I know they are not On, Off or Off-Off Broadway, but they might be any freakin' second.
I have the honor of being an acting professor at Pace University in the extraordinary School of Performing Arts, and what I have witnessed in these bright, beautiful, open and glorious young people is the future of our industry and nothing short of miraculous. My class specializes in classics, so the work I’ve witnessed and lead has been primarily in five (mind-melting) ancient Greek tragedies, The Seagull and The Spoon River Anthology. I could never select just one performance, but suffice it to say that Hammerstein’s words ring true: “It’s a very ancient saying, but a true and honest thought, that if you become a teacher, by your pupils you’ll be taught.”
I know it is sort of cheating to talk about an actor one has shared a stage with, but Tyne’s performance as Maria Callas in Terrence McNally’s Master Class revival in 2011 is one that rises to top of best stage partners I’ve ever had the honor of playing with. Tyne treated me like an equal (on and off stage), and I endeavored to deserve that honor. Her “game” improved mine, and what we alchemically created together was one of the greatest and most precious creations of my life. Her Callas was towering, tender, monstrous, human, vulnerable, honest and, ultimately, incandescent. As long as I live, I shall never forget it.